The Sutton Trust working in partnership with Esmée Fairbairn Foundation established the Parental Engagement Fund building on the evidence that engaging parents in their children’s learning can have a positive impact on their attainment. The aim of the fund is to increase attainment for disadvantaged children in the early years through the development of more effective parental engagement. EasyPeasy is one of six organisations that the fund is working with.
A small-scale randomised controlled trial (RCT) was carried out in 8 children’s centres in Bournemouth with the aim of assessing the effects of the EasyPeasy app on parents and children. EasyPeasy is a smartphone app for parents of preschool aged children. It is designed to improve early child development through increasing positive parent-child interactions and learning at home. The app sends regular game ideas to parents that they can play with their children, combined with information on child development. The design of the app applies behavioural insights to help seed positive habits of play and interaction at home by sending tailored prompts, encouragement, and reminders to parents.
This report is written by Arjette Karemaker, Fiona Jelley and Kathy Sylva.
There were statistically significant differences between intervention and control groups on two of the seven measures for the whole (analysed) sample, i.e., all eligible families in the trial with pre- and post-test.
There was a significant effect of the intervention on:
- parents’ self-efficacy regarding
discipline and boundaries
- child cognitive self-regulation
Both showed moderate positive effect sizes in favour of the intervention group.
The vast majority of parents were accepting of the programme, with only 2 parents ‘opting out’ out of receiving text messages. Parents received from 1 to 4 EasyPeasy texts messages per week throughout the trial. On average, 19% of parents in the intervention group accessed EasyPeasy on any given day, and 36% accessed in any given week. ‘Accessing’ includes watching videos, reading game instructions and commenting on the Pod. Some parents commented on EasyPeasy in their Pods. A key assumption tested in the pilot was that participants in the study would have a smart phone (required to access EasyPeasy). Despite some concerns at the outset from delivery partners, smart phone access did not prove to be a barrier to participation, even amongst lower income families.
In this study, EasyPeasy led to moderate positive effects on parenting self-efficacy and on children’s cognitive self-regulation (as reported by their parents), improvements unlikely to have occurred by chance. Parental consistency with discipline and boundaries significantly increased in the intervention group. Parents, for example, reported feeling more comfortable setting limits for behaviour and following through on expectations. This measure is not a measure of parental aggression or harsh discipline, focusing instead on reasoning with the child and finding positive ways to avoid conflict.
Parents also reported significant improvements in their children’s persistence and concentration. ‘Cognitive self-regulation’ includes persisting to complete difficult tasks (rather than giving in to distractions or giving up), making decisions independently, and working things out for oneself. This is sometimes called ‘grit’ or ‘character’. Cognitive selfregulation is a widely agreed component of school readiness, the capacity to make the most of opportunities to learn.